SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In director Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” a 2021 satire about two scientists who try in vain to warn the world about a planet-destroying comet, the scientists’ desperate plea for action ultimately doesn’t work.
But don’t take that as McKay’s view on the power of activism to change the course of the climate crisis, the existential threat his movie was really about.
McKay on Tuesday plans to announce a $4 million donation to the Climate Emergency Fund, an organization dedicated to getting money into the hands of activists engaged in disruptive demonstrations urging swifter, more aggressive climate action. It’s the largest donation the fund has received since it started in 2019, and McKay’s biggest personal gift. He joined the organization’s board in August.
Climate change is “extremely alarming, extremely frightening, and quickly becoming the only thing I’m thinking about on a daily basis, even as I’m writing scripts and directing or producing,” McKay said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
From the overthrowing of monarchies to labor movements and the Civil Rights Era, activism is an “incredibly kinetic, powerful, transformative” force that’s created change throughout history, he said.
The Climate Emergency Fund has awarded $7 million to organizations supporting mostly volunteer climate activists around the globe. Those activists have done everything from marching in the streets of France to urge people to “look up” — a reference to McKay’s film — to demonstrating on the water near West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s boat about the need for federal climate legislation.
The fund’s goal is to provide a bridge for more traditional wealthy donors with activists looking to make a statement — two groups that don’t always see eye to eye, said Margaret Klein Salamon, the fund’s executive director and a clinical psychologist.
As for the ending of “ Don’t Look Up,” Salamon said it was an “important psychological, cultural intervention” that put the stakes of the climate fight on stark display.
McKay, for his part, said he’s hesitant to attribute any direct action to his movie. But he sees both film and disruptive protest as actions that change culture, which can be a major step toward influencing policy. The film, he said, sparked an incredible reaction around the globe from ordinary viewers and scientists who have been fighting for climate action for decades.
“It was really beautiful to see people who have been fighting this fight for much longer than me really feel seen,” he said.
McKay, 54, started his career in comedy writing and became known for movies like “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers.” In recent years, his work has taken on a more political tone, though it’s still in the realm of comedy — if dark. He wrote and directed “The Big Short,” about the 2008 financial collapse, and “Vice,” about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s influence, and he’s the executive producer for “Succession,” the television show about a media mogul and his children who want to take over the company.
He says his own climate awakening came several years ago when he read a report by the International Panel on Climate Change that highlighted the vast differences that would occur if the planet warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of 1.5 degrees (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial levels. It was the moment, he said, that he went from someone who was concerned about climate change to someone who saw it as a hair-on-fire situation.
In the years since, the situation has only grown more dire, he said, pointing to the drying of the Colorado River, flooding in Pakistan and Europe’s summer heatwave as evidence that action is urgent.
“I really do believe, without any hyperbole, scientifically speaking, this is the greatest challenge, story, threat, in human history,” he said.
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